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Mountains of Southwest China Hotspot

The Mountains of Southwest China occupy an area of 262,400 sq km and lie surrounded by the Tibetan Plateau and the Central Chinese Plain, and borders two other important biodiversity hotspots-the Indo-Burma region and the Himalayas. The region has an interesting mix of many different vegetation types that vary from broad-leafed and coniferous forests to bamboo groves, scrub forests, savanna grasslands, meadows and prairie to freshwater wetlands and alpine scrub. Due to the wide variation in climate and habitats many mini-hotspots have been identified.

The region has over 12,000 plant, 611 bird, 237 mammal, 92 reptile and freshwater fish, and 90 amphibian species. As many as four out of every 10 plants found in China come from this region and as much as 29% of the plants are endemics. The mountains of Southwest China have a high density of many ancient families of plants, especially those belonging to the Rhododendron, Rhodiola, Kingdonia and Circaeaster genera.

Surprisingly, only one species of bird is endemic to the region i.e., the white-speckled laughing thrush (Garrulax bieti). The hotspot has a rich variety of pheasants that include the lady Amherst pheasant (Chrysolophus amherstiae), the Chinese monal pheasant (Lophophorus lhuysii) and the Sclater's monal (L. sclateri).

The giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), perhaps the most famous mascot for conservation initiatives is found in these mountains. Other mammalian inhabitants include the golden monkey (Rhinopithecus roxellana), black snub-nosed monkey (R. bieti), the takin (Budorcas taxicolor), the red or Bailey's goral (Nemorhaedus baileyi), Chinese forest musk deer (Moschus berezovskii) and the majestic snow leopard (Unica uncia).

Protected area in the hotspot covers 5.3% or 14,034 sq km. Attempts to regenerate forests artificially have led to monoculture plantations and an overgrowth of alien species like the Japanese pine. Habitat threats include clearing of forests for agriculture and firewood, overgrazing, construction of dams, roads, cable cars and hotels to promote tourism. An important conservation issue that is causing severe loss of biodiversity is the illegal trade in plants and animals for medicinal purposes.

[The information has been sourced from the Conservation International website on biodiversity hotspots ( Accessed in February 2008.]

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